The Corner


Trump Must Pay

Then-president Donald Trump looks on at the end of his speech during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results by Congress in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

January 6, 2021, is not over, but it already lives in infamy. A sitting president of the United States, having lost reelection, incited a mob to storm the Capitol as the Congress sat in joint session to certify the Electoral College vote. This act was without precedent. It was based on a lie, fed by myth, and culminated in violence, in vandalism, and in the desecration of the people’s house. The lawbreakers cannot go unpunished. Nor can the person ultimately responsible. His name is Donald Trump.

The men and women who breached the House and Senate chambers were doing it for him. They carried just as many Trump flags as American (or Confederate) ones. They were not chanting “Make America Great Again” as he fueled their anger during his speech at the Ellipse this morning. They were crying, “Fight for Trump.” It wasn’t an idea or even a country they stood for as they knocked over barriers, climbed walls, bashed windows, forced open doors, and desecrated public property. It was one man. And this irrevocable loyalty to an individual, this devotion that places his interests above the plain text of the Constitution and the rule of law, is not characteristic of democracy. It is tyranny.

What do the rioters expect? That after they trash the offices of the people’s representatives, majorities in the House and Senate will send the election “back to the states”? That preventing the inauguration of the duly elected president will allow Donald Trump to remain in office? That it will give him the pretext to declare martial law in the recalcitrant states, or nationwide? Such expectations are as wild and disturbing as the conspiracy theories that gave rise to them. Perhaps the vandals don’t really want anything. Maybe they just want to “fight.” Maybe they just enjoy the chaos. The word for that is nihilism.

Nihilistic lawbreaking is exactly what the American conservative movement and Republican Party have stood against since the cultural revolution of the 1960s. To see a significant portion of that movement and a large segment of that party participate in the run-up to this terrible day is sickening enough. But the truth is that the problems of the conservative movement and the Republican Party are nothing compared to the threat to the Constitution that President Trump has unleashed.

President Trump. It is hard to say those words this evening without sadness, anger, and fear. The office remains his for the next two weeks. It really shouldn’t. None of the forces that produced the Trump presidency mitigate his irresponsibility and abuse of office in the months since his loss. None of his policy achievements outweigh the paranoid extremism he has directed like a missile at the constitutional order. Pointing to his “enemies” does not excuse his behavior.

Who are his “enemies” now? The millions of Americans who voted for Joe Biden? The Democratic presidential majorities in Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania? His former national security advisers, his former attorney general, his vice president, the Republican Senate leader, every living ex-secretary of Defense, the federal judiciary, and even his past supporters? Is anyone who speaks against him now an “enemy”? To say yes to these questions only underscores the extent to which Trump has personalized his authority, departed from the traditions of his office, and deranged American politics.

There will be time to sort through the wreckage of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. There is not as much time — a little less than 14 days — to constrain the president before he plunges the nation’s capital into havoc again. Incitement to trespass, harassment, and destruction cannot go unanswered. The Constitution offers remedies. Pursue them — for no other reason than to deter the president from escalation. There must be a cost for reckless endangerment of the United States government. Trump must pay.